One of Britain’s wealthiest property firms has been accused of using the recession as an excuse to wriggle out of stumping up cash to improve public transport at Birmingham’s giant Longbridge redevelopment site.
St Modwen Properties, worth £402 million, said difficult trading conditions meant it could not afford to pay £145,000 for an upgraded railway station and park and ride until a suite of offices it has built on the 300-acre site returned a 20 per cent profit, a planning inquiry heard.
The company is appealing against Birmingham City Council’s refusal to allow the building at the Longbridge Technology Park to be used chiefly as offices.
Council planners rejected the application because St Modwen said it could not meet the Longbridge Infrastructure Tariff – payments approved by the council and government to provide roads, community facilities and transportation on the former MG Rover car works land.
The first day of the inquiry saw a bitter exchange between the two sides, with Anthony Crean QC, for the council, accusing St Modwen of seeking to “hitch a free ride” by refusing to pay the tariff when other developers at Longbridge were having to find the money.
He contrasted the company’s behaviour with Bournville College, a charity, which has signed a legal agreement to pay the tariff on its new Longbridge headquarters.
Mr Crean said St Modwen was shedding “crocodile tears” by claiming to support the creation of 10,000 jobs at Longbridge when refusal to pay the tariff would threaten the future of the entire development.
He said the council had offered a number of payment opportunities, including an option to pay half the £145,000 once the building is occupied and the remainder six months later. The options were rejected.
Martin Kingston QC, for St Modwen, accused the council of being “inflexible, perverse and dogmatic”.
The city’s attitude was a “tragedy” putting at risk the creation of up to 200 jobs in the technology park offices, he claimed.